Visa-free travel between Russia and the EU countries, Russia's accession to the WTO and ways to overcome the consequences of the global financial crisis were also discussed at the meeting.
The parties exchanged their opinions on the most acute issues on the regional agenda, in particular, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.
* * *
News conference following Russia-EU Summit
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen, we have just concluded the 27th Russia-EU summit. These meetings will always be important because they produce major agreements, and also provide us with occasions for furthering our routine cooperation and coordinating our positions on the various big issues.
These consultations began with our informal meeting yesterday evening and continued this morning at the official summit meeting, and I can say right away that they were very useful and substantial.
The strategic nature of the partnership between Russia, the EU, and its member countries is particularly evident in our economic ties. Last year’s trade turnover was one of the highest on record in our relations so far and came to more than $3 billion. This shows that our countries are now emerging from the difficulties they were in during 2008–2009, and are recovering from the global crisis.
The idea that we came up with last year – the Partnership for Modernisation – has provided good incentives. Its coordinators report that a whole series of concrete proposals have come in now for projects in various high-technology areas, including at the new technology clusters in our country, Skolkovo too. We want to see as many businesses as possible get involved in these projects, and I hope they will distinguish themselves through their competitive advantages.
“Meetings like this Russia-EU Summit will always be important because they produce major agreements and provide us with occasions for coordinating our positions on the various big issues.”
At the summit we examined the implementation of the four roadmaps for forming the four common spaces, and the progress made on the framework agreement between Russia and the European Union.
The issue of visa-free travel for Russian and EU citizens was one of the important issues on the agenda of course. Our experts are currently in the process of drawing up a list of the steps that we need to take in order to put in place the conditions for this to become reality. To be honest with you, we have made progress, but there is still a lot of work ahead.
Another issue still very much on the agenda – to my regret – is Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation. I say this is to my regret, because we could have joined much sooner, but the whole process has become very drawn out. We outlined our positions and we hope very much for the understanding of our European colleagues. We also hope that our interests will be taken into account in settling a number of energy sector issues, including with regard to implementation of the third energy package.
Of course, we exchanged views on international issues too and continued the discussion that began recently at the G8 summit in Deauville. We will also continue our common efforts to overcome the consequences of the global economic crisis, taking into account the decisions of the Seoul summit, and prepare for the next G20 summit in France.
We exchanged views too on the main regional conflicts, discussed the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, the Iranian nuclear programme, settlement in Trans-Dniester, and discussed conflict situations in Europe in general. The main point to note in this respect is that our positions on most issues are identical or very close. Incidentally, we agreed too, to give impetus to the Middle East Quartet mediators’ meetings and support holding a ministerial meeting of the Quartet members very soon.
Once more, I want to thank my colleagues for this constructive and business-like discussion, and for the trusting and friendly spirit in which we discussed the various issues on our agenda yesterday and today.
President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Mr President, thank you for your bringing us together in this historical city of Nizhny Novgorod in deep Russia. And I’m glad that we had the possibility of both experiencing the magic sunset over the Volga last evening and to have a substantial and successful summit today. This has been our third summit since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The EU-Russia relationship is enjoying its best dynamics for years and we can build on a track record of strength, trust and constructive dialogue.
Our objective today was to follow up on commitments made last December in Brussels and also to advance a number of issues of common interest. President Medvedev gave a comprehensive overview of our discussion so allow me to touch upon only a few points.
First, modernisation. This is an issue, which is fully supported by the EU – President Barroso will go further in detail on the partnership of modernization. Modernisation is a broad and diverse agenda. Promoting people-to-people contacts and mobility are central features in its social aspects, for instance via visa-free travel. We are therefore pleased with the progress of negotiations on an agreement on a common-steps approach for visa liberalisation.
Russia WTO accession is another building block of modernization and of great strategic importance even for the EU. I welcome Mr Medvedev’s personal commitment in making this happen and I can confirm the EU political will to reach agreement on the outstanding issues.
Respect for human rights is a deeply engrained point of reference in our countries’ public opinions. Russia’s record of implementing universal principles of human rights is an important element shaping its European public reputation. Despite the personal engagements and initiative of the President, there are still strong concerns in our member states and among the European public about the situation of human rights.
The upcoming elections in Russia in December and March next year are going to be an issue of high interest in Europe. Respect for the international obligations and political pluralism will be key in this respect. I express my hope that Russia will cooperate with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and early on extend to them the invitation to monitor these elections.
“Visa-free travel has been and remains one of the important issues on the agenda of course. We have made progress, but there is still a lot of work ahead. This is not something that will happen in the next year or two, but at the same time, we need to set concrete objectives to move towards.”
Second, on the global economy. We’ve exchanged views on the economic situation in both Russia and the EU. And regarding EU, our economy is clearly on the path of recovery. However, market tensions remain high reflecting concerns about the situation in a number of countries. Three countries – Greece, Portugal and Ireland – that have been under heavy market pressure are now under a programme jointly supported by the EU and the International Monetary Fund. At the same time, it is important to put things into perspective. The combined share of Greece, Ireland and Portugal is a mere 6% of Euro-area GDP.
Third, foreign policy and security. Our cooperation in crisis management is a positive feature in our bilateral relationship. But we both know that we still have a lot of unused potential. We agreed to generate new momentum by moving forward more decisively. We are aiming for a framework agreement on crisis management by the next summit, and that means before the end of this year.
We had a good discussion on the strategic transformation taking place in Europe’s southern neighbourhood. I expressed my appreciation for the constructive role Russia and personally President Medvedev played in handling this rather complex affair. We have shared interests. It is in our common interest that the countries in the region move in the direction of more democracy and rule of law, social justice and fair economic opportunities.
On the Middle East peace process, we reconfirmed our shared view on the importance of the earliest resumption of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. And we also called for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet to be held as soon as possible.
On Libya we are also aligned. Gaddafi must go. We need a process of democratic transition and an inclusive consultation process on a new constitution and elections. The Libyan people should decide on their leadership, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya must be respected.
Finally, on the regional issues. On the European continent, I think we have an opportunity to achieve significant progress toward resolving the open issues in Moldova/Transnistria.
Let me also recall the EU’s position of continued support for the security, the stability, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia and the full implementation of the 6-point agreement of August 2008, as well as the implementing measures.
We have a shared concern over the risks related to the unresolved conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, and we are equally interested in reducing the escalating tensions in that region.
I expressed my appreciation to the President’s efforts to move forward toward a solution confirmed and confirmed the EU’s commitment.
Again, Mr President, thank you for your hospitality and for your constructive approach on strengthening the strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. Thank you for your openness to find a solution for the ban on vegetables coming from the EU. And I’m looking forward to seeing you in Brussels for the next EU-Russia summit before the end of this year. No Volga there, but probably a small boat in a small river in a small country. Thank you.
President of the European Commission Jose Mauel Barroso: Thank you very much, President Medvedev, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start also with a word of gratitude for the warm welcome we have received in this historic beautiful city of Nizhny Novgorod. Alexander Pushkin, such a great famous poet for Russia whose life is closely associated with this city, said once, “Inspiration is needed in politics just as much as in poetry.” And I think we got a good inspiration from the very positive atmosphere of this summit.
In fact, it was a substantive and successful Russia-European Union summit, which was instrumental in bringing our strategic partnership forward.
Let me just highlight a few points. First, our Partnership for Modernisation is now delivering in practice. Our coordinators have reported on the progress made. Joint projects and activities are going in the way and boosting our modernisation agenda, such as our European Union action supporting a Russia-wide judicial appeal system.
The Partnership is thus making a major mutually beneficial contribution as do the sixteen bilateral modernisation partnerships which our member states have concluded with Russia. And this is backed up by concrete European funding, the EBRD and EIB. EIB just today agreed the Memorandum of Understanding with the VEB, the Russian Development Bank, to support Partnership for Modernisation projects for a total of almost 2 billion euros.
“We have discussed the procedures for resuming imports of European vegetables to the Russian market. We will resume these imports once we have received guarantees from the European Union’s relevant services.”
Clearly, this modernisation must be broad-based to be successful. Transformation, we all agree, is not just about technology. The creative forces of society as a whole must be engaged: the rule of law, the protection of citizens’ rights, a level playing field for businesses are indispensible.
These are shared commitments both at an international level and in our partnership. We welcome the creation in March 2011 of an independent European Union-Russia Civil Society Forum, and we have asked the Russian party to support it. It’s important that they fulfil their role engaging the societies in these modernisation efforts.
We believe that strengthening the rule of law is not business as usual. It is very important for bringing Russia’s and Europe’s people closer together and also for deeper economic ties.
On visa liberalisation, we welcome the progress made. Honouring our agreement of last year, the European Union and Russia have been negotiating the common steps towards a visa-free regime since April, and we have made some progress. We are also pleased by the allowance of migration dialogue in May, which will contribute to finding solutions for shared migration issues.
We also took stock of progress in negotiations on Russia’s WTO accession, which is a further key to successful modernisation. We believe that Russia WTO accession is still possible this year. But for this to be possible, Russia and the European Union will engage in sustained discussions over the coming weeks with a view to reach an agreement at the political level before the summer holidays, including on issues like meat tariff rate quotas, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, and investment regime for the automotive industry.
We also spoke about our energy matters. In fact, there has been progress in the energy dialogue. I stress that a reliable and rules-based energy framework remains a key priority. It enhances predictability and sustainability, which are common interests.
In the light of recent developments following the discussions we also had at the G8 summit in Deauville on nuclear safety, I can tell you that we are happy that Russia and EU have agreed to work together within the IAEA to revise the international convention on nuclear safety, and adopt stringent safety standards. As you know, the European Union has just started work on stress testing of its nuclear plants and we discussed ways how Russia can also commit to this process.
Regarding this issue of vegetables, we are happy that we have agreed that the ban on vegetables from the European Union will be lifted, that the system of certification of the vegetable safety by the European Commission will be put in place without any delay, and details of the certificate will be finalised as soon as possible between the Russian Federation services and the European Commission services.
So, I could go on in many other areas because it’s indeed a very broad agenda we have between Russia and the European Union, but my point is clear: we are delivering on that agenda, our discussions and actions, and the atmosphere in which they took place, show that our partnership is bearing fruit. Like trusted friends, we speak frankly and constructively, including topics on which there may be some differences, because our interdependence is really a reality. So once again, let me very sincerely thank President Medvedev and our hosts, not only for their kind hospitality but also for the spirit of the talks we had that were indeed important for the progress in our very good relationship.
Question: We know that you had an informal dinner yesterday and a working breakfast this morning. I’m curious as to whether vegetables were on the menu and where they were from, if it is not a secret. Were you afraid to eat them at all?
If we imagine for a moment that Russia did not impose a ban on vegetables and you got served European vegetables, Mr Barroso, would you eat them?
I understand that you did discuss this issue of Russia’s ban on vegetables from the EU. You said you came to an agreement. Can you give some specific details on what you agreed on exactly?
“The European Union is our strategic partner and the situation in the euro zone has an impact too on a number of the issues that we are working on within our country.”
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, we did eat vegetables, yesterday, and today too. We had tomatoes of different kinds on the menu just before. I don’t know where they were from. Let’s wait and see.
We did indeed discuss this issue. It has its sensitive side, and of course also has practical commercial implications. Mr Barroso spoke just now about the nature of our discussions and outlined the steps we will take. This situation is indeed as he described it. I just want to add that we have discussed the procedures for resuming imports of European vegetables to the Russian market. We will resume these imports once we have received guarantees from the European Union’s relevant services. This is firmly agreed. Specialists from the Russian Federation (you know them well – they have become popular figures in our country) and from the European Union will agree very soon on a certificate confirming the safety of food products exported to the Russian market. These are thus the steps that we have agreed on, and I think that this is a good result.
Jose Manuel Barroso: I can just confirm what President Medvedev just said. In fact, our teams agreed that the ban on vegetables from the European Union will be lifted, a system of certification of the vegetable safety by the European Commission will be put in place without any delay, and details of the certification will be finalised as soon as possible between the Federation of Russia and the European Commission services. We intend in fact to send the certificates today or tomorrow, if you want me to be more precise. Today or tomorrow we intend to send these certificates to our Russian partners.
Question: I have a question to Mr Van Rompuy. There appears to be a split on the second bailout package for Greece. And how confident are you that an agreement will be reached by the June 24 meeting? What kind of compromise can we expect? And also, how disastrous will it be if this agreement isn’t reached, how will this affect the Euro zone? Thank you.
Herman Van Rompuy: Thank you. We are working at different levels on the package. First of all, in Greece, on a package – on measures correcting the fiscal slippage of 2011. And this is a rather important effort of around 2% of GDP, after the big effort the Greek government already made in 2010 of around 5% of GDP. The Greek government is also working with the European Commission, with the European Central Bank and with the IMF on a new programme for the upcoming three years to strengthen fiscal consolidation and to implement all the targets set forward a year ago. So, we’re correcting the slippage and we are working on a new programme in Greece.
We are also working on some form of private sector involvement creating no-default or no-credit event. And we are working on additional European financial means for Greece. So, we are working on all this; it is not an easy exercise. But, as in the past, we will have a positive outcome and we will reach agreement by the end of the month. If you ask me if you are confident, my answer is yes, I’m confident because we’re working on it. And, of course, you mentioned some tensions. That’s completely normal in such a delicate and difficult exercise, but the outcome will be positive by the end of the month.
Dmitry Medvedev: I just want to add that we wish our European partners the greatest success in this work because the European Union is our strategic partner and the situation in the euro zone has an impact too on a number of the issues that we are working on within our country. As I said to our European Union partners, we are monitoring developments closely and hope that the current difficulties will be resolved. We are continuing with our policy of forming a bi-currency basket that includes the euro of course. This is therefore not an abstract question for us but has completely practical implications.
Question: My question is for Mr Medvedev, with a small question for Mr Van Rompuy too.
The summit last December resulted in good progress on visa-free travel, and on the WTO. We hope that the next summit in Brussels in December will be just as successful. For now though, we seem to have got stuck along the way, and so I want to ask, Mr Medvedev, what are the key moments in the step-by-step plan. It seems this plan is close to approval, but a few questions still remain to be settled. Where do our views differ?
“I appealed to our European Union partners to conclude these negotiations within a month so that by the end of the year we can begin the procedure of signing the documents on Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organisation.”
Dmitry Medvedev: Are you talking about the plan on visas or the plan on the WTO?
Reply: On visas. But the same goes for the WTO. What are the main areas that still need to be settled?
And a question for Mr Van Rompuy: the election cycle will get underway in Russia at the end of 2011. As we know, it always harder to reach agreements with the authorities in any country during an election period. Do you hope to be able to conclude the WTO negotiations by the end of 2011 at least?
Dmitry Medvedev: Regarding the WTO and visas, these two issues are in different states of progress. We have been trying to come to agreements on the WTO with our partners for 17 years now, and we are sick and tired of this whole process. Every year we hope to be able to conclude the negotiations. Last year was quite successful in terms of reaching firm agreement, including with the United States, with which we had had some problems at one time. Our European friends helped in this too.
Overall, we have not made any real breakthroughs so far this year, regrettably, though only some very minor issues, as I see them, remain to be settled now. I appealed to our European Union partners to conclude these negotiations within a month so that by the end of the year we can begin the procedure of signing the documents on Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organisation. Frankly speaking, there are very good chances of this going ahead. Everything depends on our readiness to listen to each other. I have said many times that Russia needs to be in the WTO, but really, our partners also need to have Russia in the WTO too. Our partners who are already WTO members periodically complain about differences between some of Russia’s rules and WTO rules, about the problems they encounter with various economic processes as a result, the different conditions companies work in, or other things they do not like. The solution is to close this page then so that we can start working on other issues.
As for the visa issue, this is a somewhat different situation. We are still in the process of working towards visa-free travel. We are pragmatic people and realise that this is not something that will happen in the next year or two, but at the same time, we need to set concrete objectives to move towards. On the whole I am happy with the way things are developing. We were a bit less optimistic last year, actually. But we are more optimistic now because we and our partners are working on a two-track approach now.
The first track involves simplifying the process of obtaining visas so that whole categories of Russian citizens – people travelling for work, for example, students, and other specific groups – benefit from a simplified procedure, or even visa-free travel, as we are trying to organise for residents of Kaliningrad Region, for example. People in Kaliningrad Region will be able to travel on what is practically a visa-free basis, if we reach agreements with our partners and grant similar rights to this or that district in Poland. I think the chances of reaching this kind of agreement are very good, and we have almost completed these negotiations.
The second track involves full-fledged visa-free travel. In this respect we are working on the basis of a plan that is still being discussed at the moment and should be finalised by the end of July. The advantage of this plan is that it sets out the order of the steps we need to take to reach this goal. I hope we will settle this plan by the end of July. So, there is progress, and I think this is very positive.
The second question was addressed to Mr Van Rompuy. I often get asked such questions. They are normal.
“Russia needs to be in the WTO, but really, our partners, who are already WTO members, also need to have Russia in the WTO too.”
Herman Van Rompuy: If I understood you rightly, you are asking me if the electoral agenda will influence the negotiations on the WTO membership. Yes, that was your question. This membership is independent from an electoral agenda. It is too important for the European Union and for Russia to let it depend on an electoral agenda. And I’m quite confident that this is not the case, so we go further with a strong political will, certainly from the Russian side, but also from our side, to see a membership by the end of the year of Russia to this very important international agency. And I can only say that I felt during this evening, last evening and this morning, that this political will is really, really present, and we are obliged to have a success.
Question: Mr Barroso, have you discussed the third energy package during the summit, and are there any advances? Have your positions moved closer and is there any chance that European restrictions on Russia’s participation in its gas infrastructure could be lifted in the nearest future? Thank you.
Jose Manuel Barroso: First of all, yes, we have discussed this issue. But let me tell you that our rules are non-discriminatory. The same European Union rules apply to all, and the European legislation, so called third energy package of 2009 that is now legislation approved by the European Union, seeks to improve the functioning of our internal market on gas and electricity. And its aim is precisely to set a reliable transparent rule-based framework for all investors and all operators.
The new rules ensure full effective network access and a proper functioning of open integrated markets. So, unbundling the issue that has been sometimes controversial, unbundling applies to all companies, be they European or foreign, because we need a level playing field. This, I think, also creates opportunities for investment, some more predictable investment, so that a company that is not from the European Union knows that when it comes to Europe, in all the 27 member states, there are some common rules. And I also think this predictability is good for investment, namely in energy that as you know sometimes these are very long-term investments, very capital-intensive investments.
So, our rules, rules of the world’s largest internal market, will be applied at the same time because the Russian partners have expressed to us several times some concerns about the ways it is implemented in some of our member states, we are ready to find pragmatic solutions to specific issues, as we have done for instance in Poland where there was a discussion between Poland and investors coming from Russia. The Commission was participating actively in those consultations and in the end, a good solution was found. So, this is what I can tell you and this is in fact a clear demonstration of one thing that I have highlighted today once more in this summit: Russia and the European Union need each other in the energy field. Russia is our most important partner in this field, and it will remain the most important partner. So what we have is to create conditions on both sides of predictability to facilitate investment, and that’s exactly the way we are acting.
“We have been discussing the third energy package’s mutually advantageous implementation. The main thing for Russia is that the European Commission’s implementation of this resolution does not have a negative effect for Russian investors, or for European companies and the citizens of European countries.”
Dmitry Medvedev: If you permit, I just want to add a couple of words given that this is an important issue for our country.
We have been discussing the third energy package’s mutually advantageous implementation and the impact on our energy relations for quite some time now. The main thing for Russia is that the European Union and European Commission’s implementation of this resolution does not have a negative effect for Russian investors, as my colleague just mentioned, or for European companies and the citizens of European countries. We therefore need to weigh up exactly how all of this will unfold on the European markets, and not just blindly implement prior decisions. In this sense, I think that consultations should continue and ultimately produce mutually advantageous approaches. We do have a number of concerns on this issue. But I think the main thing in this situation is to listen to each other’s concerns and try to respond, and not simply close our eyes to them. I hope that we will continue our dialogue with our European Union partners in this spirit.
Concluding today’s discussion, on behalf of everyone, and on behalf of the Russian delegation, I want to thank Nizhny Novgorod for the reception we have had here. Thank you very much for your hospitality.